Everyone has a method for dealing with stress, and running is mine. If I feel on edge, I go for a run. If I’m frustrated or confused about how to work through conflict, I go for a run. If I’m overwhelmed and don’t have the words to articulate why I feel the way I do, I go for a run.
It’s not that I’m running away. I don’t run to avoid problems. But I do run to refuel, so that I can tackle those problems with renewed energy. Running is a source of healing and clarity, a form of letting go.
I think running has been most helpful for me during times of transition. Before high school started, I ran to make friends. To deal with the anxiety of transferring high schools after sophomore year, I ran. To meet friends in college, I ran.
After I got married and moved to a new city, running gave me the quiet time I needed to deal with those changes. And when I got a job at a law firm, it was running that helped me manage my anxiety about adjusting to a new field. The longer I would run along the lake, the better I would feel about my job—which eventually led me to my first Chicago Marathon.
So naturally, during the most life-altering transition of all, pregnancy, I planned to run.
But then, at my seven week ultrasound, my doctor diagnosed me with a subchorionic hematoma and advised against me running. There were many risks involved, the most serious being miscarriage.
So, I had to give it up, for the remainder of my pregnancy.
This was difficult for me, to say the least. In search of another outlet, I took up swimming and pre-natal yoga. These helped, but I still felt restless. I really missed running.
Which might explain the fact that, while pregnant, I decided to sign up for the following year’s Chicago Marathon. I knew I’d be eight months postpartum, and most likely able to run it.
Call me crazy, but that commitment gave me something to focus on and work toward outside of myself and my baby.
Despite my efforts to stay healthy and active, my pregnancy showed me in a deep and practical way that I had to trust in God. My own outlet, while helpful, will never be enough: because no matter how hard we try to plan and manage on our own, so much will always remain beyond our control.
In fact, childbirth was a perfect example of that for me. Like my pregnancy, it was much harder than I had expected and didn’t go according to my plans.
And the surprises didn’t stop there. After my daughter was born, I was overjoyed to meet and hold her, but at the same time I felt crippling and irrational anxiety. I remember crying to my mother about how worried I was that I would drop the baby, and I constantly checked her breathing at night.
After talking to fellow mothers and conducting my own research, I came to understand that the fears and the feelings I was experiencing were common. I was struggling with postpartum anxiety.
As soon as I could, I started running again, and I immediately began to feel like my old self. My postpartum anxiety lessened, and I felt stronger and more grounded, physically and emotionally.
In the months that followed, my life changed even more—I quit my job and became a stay-at-home mom. But running remained a constant. Working toward the concrete goal of the marathon helped me cope with the feelings of inadequacy that I struggled with in motherhood and helped me to be a better wife and mother.
When the race day finally came, I dashed off with a heart full of anticipation and determination. I kept repeating in my head, “I went through labor, I can do this!”
But I realized something, somewhere along that long, 26.2 mile route: although I am strong, and I did go through labor, and I can do this—I’m not doing any of it on my own.
As I ran along downtown and weaved my path all around Chicago, my pounding feet turned into a form of prayer and meditation. I became so aware of God’s created beauty around me. My insecurity and anxiety were stripped away, and as it often was, my sweat became the exterior cleansing of my interior build-up.
I experienced an overwhelming sense of gratitude during that race as I realized: running was something I had always expected to have, and I had taken it for granted.
But God gave me that time without running as a gift.
He challenged me by taking away that thing I thought I needed so desperately, showing me that all things, including the ability to run, are gifts from Him, and nothing can serve as a substitute for His undying love.
As I ran, I truly do not remember “hitting a wall” as I had in my previous marathon; instead, the marathon became a form of prayer. Perhaps this was because of my heightened sense of gratitude to be able to run this race, but also, I focused on the suffering of someone else in particular, which minimized my own discomfort.
My own feelings of inadequacy were shed, step by step, as a I realized that no matter how strong or weak I am, no matter whether I can run or not run, God loves me, and he always wants a deeper relationship with me.
That marathon for me was a spiritual journey. And honestly, it was the best metaphor for motherhood that I can imagine — each mile is like each day, and we are meant to embrace and savor both.
With each mile and each day, you experience something different. There are different obstacles and blessings along the way, but God is always there.
We recently received the finisher booklet for the Chicago Marathon, and my husband pointed out that I had achieved my personal best, was in the top 2 percent of all female finishers, and qualified for the Boston Marathon—a goal I never thought I’d achieve eight months postpartum.
My motivation for running has never been to break records or receive accolades. It truly was (and is) something that clears my head and serves as a source of therapy during tumultuous times, and gives me the awareness that God is with me through it all.
But when I realized that I had qualified for the Boston Marathon, I was struck by the realization all those difficult, uncertain times of transition, that were such a huge challenge for me, were a gift that have not only strengthened my relationship with God, but have quite literally made me stronger.
Motherhood is demanding and often requires sacrifices. While at first they may seem difficult and frustrating, with time, God can show us that those sacrifices are often necessary to help us grow and be shaped into the people He wants us to be.
Sometimes He takes away something dear to us simply so that we may grow to be more reliant on Him. This is a very hard cross to bear. But as C.S. Lewis once said, “He wants them to learn to walk, and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there, He is pleased even with their stumbles.”
And with God’s grace, we can come out even stronger on the other side.